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Labour warns of 'America first' approach in trade talks

By Richard Wheeler, Sophie Morris and Lewis McKenzie, PA Political Staff

Britain is pursuing an "America first" approach in its trade talks with the United States, Labour has claimed.

Shadow international trade minister Bill Esterson said Government documents lack detail about the impact of cheap imports from the US on UK manufacturing, adding this is an issue the ceramics industry has warned about.

But International Trade Secretary Liz Truss described Labour's questioning as "ludicrous" and claimed "virtually every sector of the UK economy" will benefit from the desired deal with the US.

The UK Government has published its negotiating objectives for the upcoming talks with the US, which include ensuring the NHS is not for sale via the desired free trade agreement.

Government estimates also suggest the post-Brexit deal would have the potential to grow the UK economy by 0.16%, with the £3.4 billion yearly increase predicted under the best-case scenario where the UK eliminates import tariffs with the US.

But if only "substantial tariff liberalisation" is achieved, then the increase estimated in 15 years is put at 0.07%, or £1.6 billion, in the Governments' preliminary assessment.

Critics have warned the benefits of the US deal would pale in comparison to a potentially larger hit to the economy caused by Brexit.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Esterson said: "The BCC (British Ceramics Confederation) warns of the dangers of this Government's proposed mutual recognition clauses.

"That's where the flood of low quality imports come from.

"Her own scoping assessment says nothing about the impact of cheap imports from the US on UK manufacturing either.

"So why won't she listen to industry?

"Shouldn't the Government rethink their approach to the US agreement and look after our own excellent manufacturing sector rather than pursuing a policy of America first?"

Ms Truss replied: "I do find this pretty ludicrous.

"He saw from the scoping assessment that virtually every sector of the UK economy, including manufacturing, including agriculture, will benefit from a US trade deal."

Labour MP Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) later asked: "Are the US negotiations being conducted in tandem with the EU ones with fully trained teams aware of what each other is doing so that that can be factored into any future relationship?

"I'm sure other countries will be thinking the same, particularly as our objectives seem to be so divergent from the US's 'America first' aims."

International trade minister Conor Burns responded: "She asks whether in fact we are pursuing concurrent trade negotiations with the EU and the United States, the answer is yes we are, in exactly the same way that the EU are currently negotiating with the United States."

Tory MP Siobhan Baillie (Stroud) said farmers need assurances that "the Government will stand up for them in all trade negotiations and reconfirm their importance to the economy".

In comments seen by the Mail On Sunday, an economic adviser to the Chancellor, Dr Tim Leunig, is understood to have said the food sector is "not critically important" to the country's economy - and that agriculture and fisheries "certainly isn't".

Ms Baillie said: "Last weekend there were worrying comments reported in the Mail On Sunday questioning the need for UK farming and agriculture for our economy.

"At a time where the farmers feel desaturated and they're lambing in really difficult conditions, they did not need that over their cornflakes on a Sunday."

Responding, Ms Truss said: "Well the honourable lady is right, British farming is vital both for its food production, the custodianship of the environment and the enjoyment it provides in all of our lives with the fantastic products that we produce.

"She will notice that in the US negotiating objectives and scoping statement, agriculture will benefit because there will be more opportunities to export our fantastic lamb, our fantastic beef, we can cut tariffs on dairy products.

"So there are lots of opportunities and I want British farmers to take those up."

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